New team, same bike. Almost.
By Ben Atkins in Loenhout, Belgium
Sven Nys had ridden his whole career with Rabobank but took the decision
to switch to the smaller Belgian Landbouwkrediet-Tonnisteiner team at
the beginning of this cyclo-cross season. Part of this decision was
due to his dissatisfaction with his old team, but a lot was also down
to the fact that the Kannibal of cross wanted to take a proper tilt
at the road in 2009 with the ambition of winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen
right up at the top of his wish list.
A team change usually comes with a switch in bikes and getting used
to the characteristics of a new frame can take some time. Not so for
Sven Nys. As luck (or design) would have it, his new team also rides
frames made by Colnago and so all the Belgian champion had to do was
get used to a new colour.
Ernesto Colnago and Nys have long enjoyed a fruitful relationship,
which would recently have come to an end had Nys stayed with Rabobank
who are switching to Giant for 2009. The Italian master builder actually
created a frame especially for the Belgian called the "Cross Prestige",
but Nys actually prefers to stick to the machine that has carried him
to so much success over the years: his custom built C50.
Whereas most mortals enjoy a little comfort when riding off-road, racing
at this level consists of a succession of bursts and acceleration so
many top pros favor rigidity and responsiveness above all else. As such,
Nys has his frame built from the stiffer reinforced tubing that the
Extreme Power frame is made from instead of the standard C50 Cross'
more compliant ingredients.
Aside from the frame, there are a number of similarities between Nys'
bike from the last time we looked at it and now, but also a number of
obvious differences. The standout change between then and now is the
wheelset. Nys used a pair of Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-C50 carbon tubulars
at Rabobank but Landbouwkrediet-Tonnisteiner is sponsored by Mavic and
so he has a pair of the French company's top-of-the-line Cosmic Carbone
Ultimates instead - at least that was the case initially.
The team's wheel sponsorship switched to Shimano on the 1st of January
- just two days after we looked at Nys' bike - leaving even one less
thing for the star 'cross rider to think about. Though Nys' race bike
was obligatorily fitted with those Mavic wheels at the time, he confided
that his spare bike was fitted with Shimano wheels so as to reacquaint
himself with their characteristics in time for the big races of the
The sub-zero temperatures in most of northern and central Europe over
the holiday period turned most races into virtual kermesses instead
of the more typical mud pits - albeit on dirt roads - and the only real
obstacles in races like the Azencross were the manmade ones like bridges
and steps to go along with the bumps and washboard sections. This has
suited the characteristics of fast finishers like Fidea's Zdenek Stybar
(who won this particular race) rather than the strong men like Nys and
Stybar's teammate Bart Wellens.
This frozen hardpack has also dictated the choice of tread - or lack
of it - on Nys ubiquitous 32mm Dugast tubulars as he has chosen the
semi-slick Pipistrello tread rather than the usual Rhino or Typhoon
knobbles. Larger diamond-shaped knobs on the edges still provide surer
off-road cornering but the low-profile pattern down the middle yields
far faster rolling.
Most of the rest of Nys' kit will have been familiar to him from his
old Rabobank bike, including the traditional bend of the 44cm-wide PRO
handlebars. This season he has opted for the carbon fibre Vibe OS model
though instead of the previous aluminium PLT, which is still held tight
with a 120mm aluminium PRO PLT stem.
Also common to this and his previous bike is the Shimano groupset,
except where there were hints of Ultegra on his Rabobank machine, this
one is fully Dura-Ace though the latest 7900 version seems to be taking
longer to filter into cyclo-cross. Even a big star like Sven Nys is
still using the older 7800 version and by the looks of the wear on the
outsides of the 172.5mm chainset arms this is a well loved example that
will have earned its retirement when it eventually gets replaced by
the newer version.
Nys continues to pair 46/39T chainrings with a 12-25T cassette despite
the firmness of the ground and the relative flatness of the course.
According to Nys, the 46T ring allows him to accelerate out of Azencross'
multitude of corners much more smoothly than if he had a bigger one.
He did admit though that his spare bike was fitted with a 48T for use
in the final lap to give him a slightly larger development in the event
of a sprint finish.
Shimano may help Nys to power out of corners, but in the absence of
a high-level cross brake from the Japanese company it's down to TRP
to slow him down on the way in. Carbon fiber arms, minimal aluminium
bits and titanium hardware keep the company's top EuroX Carbon cantilevers
down to a claimed 109g per pair while their traditional high-profile
configuration provides extra clearance at the rim during muddy races.
Mavic-branded carbon-specific blocks (made by SwissStop) are fitted
to the cartridge pad holders.
Nys also continues on with a pair of familiar Shimano XTR SPD pedals
and it looks as though he came off to the left hand side when using
these ones at least once as the logo was scuffed off (the right hand
one is unscathed). Other damage is in evidence - as this frame has already
done well over half a season - in the form of a large section of paint
scuffed off the outside of the left leg of the Colnago Star Cross fork.
This may have been in the same incident, but it looks to like it may
have been caused by careless storage or transport.
Nys is lucky to have so much carryover equipment for a new team but
he still has had to make adjustments in one critical area: Nys now has
a Prologo Nago saddle to sit on, clamped atop an in-house Colnago seatpost
in place of the previous Selle San Marco and PRO products.
The thaw that the strongmen (and women) of cyclo-cross had all asked
for over the holidays has finally arrived in Europe and so we are seeing
races return to the usual format of one rider against another as they
both battle the conditions, rather than the virtual bunch racing we
saw over the turn of the year. Assuming this continues to be the case
heading into the world championships this weekend, we can expect to
see the new green Colnago of Sven Nys to the fore in Hoogerheide.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here